The Purpose of Disclosure for Couples in Recovery

“Disclosure” is a term used to describe the process of communicating factual information and personal experience to a partner.

A disclosure process is often part of the early sexual recovery phase or may come soon after the discovery of an infidelity, affair, or secretive sexual acting out. Clients who come to counselling for sexual addiction, pornography addiction, and problematic sexual behaviours often work through a disclosure process with their therapist in preparation for disclosing the problem to their spouse. A disclosure process may be adapted for couples entering recovery for similar hidden addictions such as gambling disorder and when alcohol and substance misuse has remained hidden.  

“Essentially, it is about honesty, transparency, and accountability, aligning one person’s reality with the other person’s false sense of reality.”

The disclosure process is important in several ways for both the betrayed partner and the person starting sexual and relationship recovery. Essentially, it is about honesty, transparency, and accountability, aligning one person’s reality with the other person’s false sense of reality.

Both parties will experience the disclosure process in vastly different ways, which is why sensitivity, along with good preparation, is crucial to the wellbeing of both partners.

When a relationship is in sudden crisis there is a tendency to do anything to protect and preserve the relationship’s security and deny information which may compromise the relationship. When emotional or physical betrayal is the cause of a crisis, it can lead to hiding, covering up, or denying factual information, which can destroy the sense of trust within a couple.

Research now tells us that this type of “drip-feeding” of sensitive information and secretive behaviour causes more extensive long-term psychological distress and trauma, sometimes even leading to PTSD, than does disclosing all the information in one or two sittings. Thus, not being open and upfront with important information can potentially shatter any possibility of rebuilding trust within the relationship and commence a cascade towards separation and divorce.

“Discovery is part of the betrayal, part of the addiction, part of the trauma. Disclosure is part of the recovery.”Michelle Mays (www.partnerhope.com)

What is the suggested way to conduct a personal disclosure?

A disclosure is possibly best done in one long, planned and carefully prepared sitting with follow-up discussions. It should be broken down into a clear structured process for both partners to prepare and work through. 

In order to reduce the level of distress for the couple, particularly the listener, it’s important to get professional support and be guided through the process. Clients can often spend weeks working on a disclosure with their therapist before the disclosure statement is read out to their partner.

The purpose of spending this time is to help the individual gain their own insight and understanding into the problem. This insight will hopefully help the discloser to empathize, at a deeper level, with the impact their actions may have had on their partner and puts them in a better position to more genuinely answer the disclosure questions.

Ideally disclosures will be done in the presence of a professional therapist that has been working with the individual, or couple, in order to facilitate a type of “safe holding space” for both.

You may also choose to conduct a disclosure without the help of a therapist; however, you must ensure first that your partner is aware of your disclosure plans in advance so that they can prepare themselves and have strong supports in place in the aftermath of a sensitive disclosure.

What is the purpose of a disclosure process?

  • To clarify the facts.
  • To hear one another’s truth.
  • To hear one another’s stories.
  • To be able to express yourself in a safe way, uninterrupted.
  • To be heard.
  • To try to empathise with your partner.
  • To try to have compassion for each other’s experience.
  • To eradicate any secrecy, betrayal, or dishonesty in the relationship. 
  • To remove all secrecy associated with sexual acting out and bring sexual recovery out into the open.
  • To express other undisclosed experiences and factors which may be linked to the disclosure.  
  • To start re-building trust by being genuine, honest, and open.
  • To give the betrayed partner the opportunity to make informed and consensual decisions regarding the direction of the relationship.

While the process of a disclosure can be uncomfortable and emotional, it’s purpose is rooted in your relationship’s willingness to work through and move past the trauma, hopefully ending up in a stronger and healthier place.

The many benefits of a structured and safe disclosure are what makes the work of a specialised relationship therapist that much more vital to the outcome of the process.

By being open, forthcoming, and willing to do the work as well as enlisting professional help, you and your partner can discover the true purpose of struggling through a disclosure… healing.

Orlagh Reid Psychotherapy

Orlagh Reid

Orlagh Reid is an IACP accredited Counsellor & Psychotherapist, Addiction Counsellor, Gottman Couples Therapist and Fertility Counsellor in private practice based in Co. Kildare, Ireland and worldwide online via DOXY. She specialises in addiction, recovery, well-being and clinical sexology. To find out more or to book an online consultation visit www.orlaghreid.com